This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, December 6, 2010

What If We Were Able to Increase Human Lifespan?

Models of the health and mortality transition typically assume that human lifespan is fixed at approximately 120 years, but scientists keep teasing us with the possibility that some discovery or another might push that to higher ages and that, at the same time, more and more of us might survive to those very old ages. New research on mice at the Harvard Medical School, in which the aging process was "reversed" has been the latest tease:
"What we saw in these animals was not a slowing down or stabilisation of the ageing process. We saw a dramatic reversal – and that was unexpected," said Ronald DePinho, who led the study, which was published in the journal Nature.
"This could lead to strategies that enhance the regenerative potential of organs as individuals age and so increase their quality of life. Whether it serves to increase longevity is a question we are not yet in a position to answer."
This led to the following commentary by Joan Bakewell of BBC News as she contemplated the possibility of living forever:
There are people frantic for eternal life. A few years ago I met people who were vesting their savings in the cryogenic movement - a movement that undertook to freeze your body after you were dead and keep it until such time as science came up with the solution to whatever had killed you, at which moment you could be defrosted, cured, and resume your life.
Little attention was being paid to two serious disadvantages: what might the world be like when you emerged from the deep freeze, would they still have iPods and aeroplanes, supermarkets and killer heels. And secondly, why would anyone bother to defrost you when you had already paid up and had no possible means of redress. Who would want to resurrect a cluster of damp and out of date individuals, who would merely hang around adding to the world's population problem?
While most of us don't want to live forever, many of us would enjoy living longer. At the same time we would like the planet to survive as we know it. There is a contradiction in contemplating a world where everyone lives much longer and where the planet's resources are finite.
Wise thoughts, indeed. Individual aging (or lack thereof) has clear consequences for population and the environment, not just for human health.

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